Skip to main content

Full text of "Rutland Historical Society Quarterly Vol.22, No.2, 1992"

See other formats


RUTLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY 



Quarterly 



Volume XXII No. 2 



1992 



Their Share of the Glory 

Rutland Blacks in the Civil War 




COURTESY, COMPANY OF MILITARY HISTORIANS 



Enlisted Man, 54th Massachusetts Regiment 
1863-1865 



Rutland Blacks in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment 
Their Share of the Glory 

by Don Wickman 

On the night of 12 April 1861 Confederate cannon opened fire on Fort Sumter 
in Charleston Harbor. After a brave defense Major Richard Anderson lowered 
the fort's flag in surrender and the Confederates took control of the brick bastion. 
The Civil War had begun and would continue over the next four years with 
relentless fury. 

The news of Sumter's fall ignited a fire across the northern states. Men flocked 
to volunteer for military duty, eager to battle the Confederates. Vermonters were 
also included in this intense war fever. By early May the 1st Vermont Regiment 
had departed the state for the south and the call to arms was issued to raise addi- 
tional regiments. The call was answered and ranks filled with men both young 
and old, and rich and poor, from all trades and professions. But these soldiers 
who were enlisting in a war where a prime issue was slavery were all white. 
Northern blacks could not enlist. Not until after 1 January 1863 was it possible 
for blacks to serve as regular soldiers, and serve they did. Vermont sent 120 black 
soldiers off to war, 7 1 of whom served in the 54th Massachusetts (Colored) 
Volunteer Regiment. Over 25% of those men enlisted from Rutland. This is the 
account of their "glory". 

Rutland in 1861 

In 1861 Rutland was a growing town with developing industry. It was not 
just Rutland City, but encompassed all the land of present day Proctor, West 
Rutland, Rutland Town, and Rutland City. The railroad bisected the town and 
a major rail yard was growing. As rail activity increased the commercial center 
of Rutland shifted from Main Street to Merchants Row and Center Street. 

The census of 1860 recorded over 7500 residents in Rutland. This was a 100% 
increase in the population since the census of 1850. Rutland was a successful, 
flourishing community. 

Of those 7500 people listed in the 1860 census 92 blacks were among the 
population. This number represented nearly 10% of the total black population 
in all of Vermont. One common misconception is these blacks were products of 
the underground railroad which ran through Vermont. Census records show the 
heads of households and spouses were primarily born in Vermont. Black heritage 
in Vermont was not new, only forgotten. 

Within the communty was Cato Williams and family, including sons, John 
and Cyrus; young farmer John Langley and his new wife, Caroline; teamster 
Nathan Hayes dwelling in Center Rutland with his wife and daughters; William 
Scott, his wife and five children, among whom was his son, George; and many 
others. Some like Langley farmed, others were laborers; another segment served 
as servants, cooks, or domestics. They were a part of Vermont's population, 

18 



but when Fort Sumter fell they could be only bystanders to America's bloodiest 
conflict. 

Emancipation! 

Why had blacks not been permitted to join the ranks? After all, those free 
blacks had rights of other U.S. citizens. Why exclude this segment of the popula- 
tion? The reasons were both political and stereotypical. Lincoln was counseled 
early in the war that should he permit the enlistment of black soldiers, citizens 
in the already shaky border states and some northern states would withdraw their 
support for the war. Some state governments were not ardent abolitionists, but 
saw the Civil War necessary for preservation of the union. The raising of black 
troops would alter priorities and support for the war could erode. 

There was also the basic stereotype of the black man in the 1860s. Though 
there were blacks who were respected and well-educated, many people believed 
blacks were lazy, ill-disciplined, and did not possess the courage or spirit to fight. 
The job of common laborer was their best profession and as one white Ohioan 
shouted early in the war, "This is a white man's war!" 1 

Meanwhile, the war for the union was not proceeding well. Lincoln realized 
the abolition of slavery was essential to the winning of the war and drafted the 
Emancipation Proclamation, planning it to go into effect January 1 863 . However, 
Lincoln chose not to announce the proclamation until a significant Union vic- 
tory had been won. 

The victory Lincoln sought came on the banks of Antietam Creek in Maryland 
on 17 September 1862 where McClellan's Army of the Potomac fought Lee and 
his Army of Northern Virginia to a draw. Though not a clearcut victory, it did 
serve to blunt Lee's advance northward, and with victories in the east difficult 
to come by, it had to suffice. The Emancipation Proclamation was made public. 
Hundreds of Union troops chose to desert rather than serve side by side with 
blacks, but now there was the opportunity for blacks to enlist and fight. 

The 54th Massachusetts Regiment 

With emancipation declared, the door opened for blacks to serve in the Union 
army. In South Carolina ex-slaves were formed into the first black regiment; other 
units soon followed in Louisiana and Kansas. The officers of these regiments were 
all white. 

In January 1863 Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew decided to raise 
a colored regiment. The Federal War Department agreed to the strongly aboli- 
tionist state raising the regiment and recruiting began feverisly. A general 
misconception about the 54th Massachusetts (Colored) Regiment is that the soldiers 
were primarily runaway slaves. Though true for those regiments raised in the 
south, it was not the case of the 54th. These volunteers were free men and often 
literate, well-educated, and from worthy professions. The 54th had the distinc- 
tion of being the first black regiment raised in the north and recruits came to 

19 



Massachusetts from every northern state and Canada to support the venture. 
Twenty-six year old Robert Gould Shaw, son of a Boston abolitionist and already 
a veteran of several battles, was appointed regimental colonel. All other officers 
selected for duty in the regiment were white. 

After intense drill at Readville Camp outside of Boston, the 54th was mustered 
into the Union army and left Boston to a resounding sendoff. Governor Andrew 
envisioned the 54th not only as a fighting regiment, but also a "nest egg of a 
brigade" of black regiments. Andrew believed the arrival of the 54th in the 
Caronlinas would be a rallying point for blacks in the region and a start for fur- 
ther enlistments of blacks into the army, thus increasing troop strength. He was 
also adamant in his letters that the 54th was, "raised and officered for active not 
fatigue duty . . . and allowed a place in onward and honorable movements of 
active war." 2 

In early June 1863 the regiment arrived in South Carolina as part of the 
force besieging Charleston. Active duty initially was limited to manual labor 
around the camp. However, on 16 July part of the regiment made a successful 
defense on James Island where it was responsible for saving the white 10th Con- 
necticut Regiment from capture and destruction. The 54th was now a veteran 
unit and earned the respect of fellow soldiers. 

Charleston, South Carolina, was a city ringed with fortifications. One of 
these, Fort Wagner on Morris Island, required capture as it commanded ground 
essential for Union advancement. A work composed of high sand walls, a moat, 
and protected by water and cannon, it was nearly impregnable. Once already 
it had defied Union onslaught, but the generals elected to try again rather than 
lay a siege. The 54th, with young Shaw at the head of the regiment, would lead 
the attack. 

On the night of 18 July 1863 the 54th advanced, followed by two brigades 
of white troops. Charging through vicious fire the 54th gained the parapet only 
to have Shaw killed and his body fall into the fort. Fire thinned the officer ranks, 
but for an hour the troops maintained their position. The supporting regiments 
gallantly charged, but were also defeated and all that remained at sunrise were 
mounds of dead and wounded. 

Of the 600 men led by Shaw that July evening 50 percent were either killed, 
wounded, or captured. The result of such terrible losses proved to the north that 
black troops were not cowardly, but capable of fighting and dying valiantly for 
a cause. 

The siege of Charleston continued. 

The Military Draft Comes to Rutland 

While the 54th Massachusetts was being recruited, the war was still not pro- 
ceeding well for the north. Battles at Fredericksburg and Stones River created 
enormous casualty lists which affected cities and towns alike. The initial excitement 

20 



of war diminished and enlistments dropped considerably. Men were needed to 
fill the dwindling ranks and Congress passed legislation establishing the first 
military draft. All able-bodied men, whether black or white, between the ages 
of 25 and 45 were eligible. The draft would go into effect on 1 July 1863. 

Several weeks later the selection process begin in Rutland. It was a lottery 
where names were drawn and a ranking created. Men were exempted if they failed 
the physical examination, fulfilled other criteria for exemption, or procured a 
substitute to serve in their place. A substitute was paid $300 and although it was 
a common practice in the northern states, it was not popular in Vermont. 

After the draft concluded, three Rutland black men were off to war. John 
N. Langley, the twenty-five year old farmer was one, and brothers William H. 
and James J. Brooks were also selected. Rutland contributed $100 compensa- 
tion towards each man who had a family, to ease the suffering at home. 

Since Vermont did not have any black units, the three men were mustered 
in and ordered to join the 54th Massachusetts on the South Carolina coast. In 
the company of other black draftees the men arrived at Morris Island on 29 
November 1863 and were immediately placed in the ranks. 



Another Call for Volunteers 

The draft helped to fill the ranks, but more men were needed. A second 
draft was ordered for the beginning of 1864, but volunteers would be initially 
accepted. Towns were informed they needed to fill a certain quota of volunteers 
by 5 January 1864. If the number was not met by the deadline, the draft would 
be instituted to make up the difference, plus an additional number of men would 
be drafted. Towns scrambled for methods to secure volunteers so a draft could 
be avoided. 

Since the hunt for glory was no longer a lure for men to enlist, the next solu- 
tion was money. Already the federal government was offering a $302 bounty per 
enlistment and the state added $125 more. Even with this large sum of money 
volunteers were not forthcoming. 

The towns desperately wanted to reach their quotas. As enlistments were 
proceeding slowly, Rutland held a town meeting to examine its options. After 
debate it was voted to offer a $500 town bounty for each man enlisting above 
and beyond the federal and state bounties. A new recruit could earn $927 for 
signing enlistment papers. A special town tax was also passed to help defray the 
$65,000 expense of all the bounties. 

Non-residents could also enlist and help fulfill the town quota. The addi- 
tional $500 was an attraction. As "bounty jumping" was becoming prevalent, 
the town in passing the bounty stated non-residents would only receive $300 at 
the time of enlistment, the remaining $200 balance six months later. According 
to the local paper, "The object of this modification, . . . was to guard against 
desertions, and to secure bona fide soldiers." 3 

21 



With such a grand bounty being offered, volunteers came forward quickly. 
Both black and white men signed up. By 14 December, the Rutland Herald wrote, 
"Ten colored volunteers have enlisted in Rutland." 4 These recruits were: George 
Hart, Nathan Hayes, Henry Jackson, Louden Langley, Andrew Mero, James 
Quow, George William Scott, and Cyrus and John Williams. 

On 28 December the Herald would write, "No draft here," as the town quota 
was met a week before the federal deadline. 5 Seven more blacks had enlisted over 
those two weeks. They were: Francis Anthony, Royal Briggs, John Freeman, 
William Jackson, Charles Mero, George Storms, and John Weeks. Seventeen 
black volunteers prepared to set off for war. 

Many of these seventeen were related. There were two sets of brothers: John 
and Cyrus Williams and Andrew and Charles Mero. William and George Scott 
were father and son. James Quow was a brother-in-law to John Williams. Louden 
Langley had two other brothers enlist concurrently from Ferrisburgh, and Royal 
Briggs had a younger brother already in the 54th, a draftee from Castleton. At 
least five of the men were married and the average age was twenty-seven. 

The new volunteers immediately set off to the Brattleboro rendezvous to join 
other new recruits. At the camp they were viewed by one of Vermont's United 
States Senators, Jacob Callomer. He said of the colored volunteers, "I would 
mention one thing as showing the character of the men: every man among them 
wrote his name to his articles of enlistment; not one made his mark. There was 
no man among them but could have commanded his two dollars a day at home." 6 
The men left Brattleboro for Boston, but were forced temporarily to leave behind 
Cyrus Williams, who had contracted typhoid fever. At Boston the recruits boarded 
a steamer which arrived at Folly Island, South Carolina, on 20 January 1864. 
The men were now part of the 54th Massachusetts and began to be integrated 
into the companies. 



Olustee 

The Rutland men arrived just in time to be part of an expedition to Florida. 
The strategy was to capture a coastal port, cut off enemy supply routes, and "try" 
to restore Florida to the Union. The regiment set out in early February with the 
new recruits. The exception was John Freeman. Freeman was in the Hilton Head 
Hospital where he died of disease on 15 February. 

The Union force landed at Jacksonville and advanced across the state toward 
Tallahassee. Colonel Edward Hallowell commanded the 54th. The Confederates 
had set up their defensive line at Olustee, a small train stop along the cross- 
state railroad. The land was filled with pine barrens and swamps. Union Gen- 
eral Seymour advanced holding the 54th in reserve. The Union forces attacked 
the Confederate lines, but then began to break under a fierce counterattack. 
The 54th was ordered to advance and stabilize the left flank. The regiment 
arrived in time to blunt the assault and then stood alone under intense fire 
as the Union line crumbled in disorder. Finally, orders arrived to fall back 

22 



and the 54th served as the army's rear guard while it retraced its route to Jack- 
sonville. 

The army was soundly defeated, but the 54th earned more plaudits for its 
stubborn defense among the pines. During the combat three Rutland men were 
wounded: William H. Brooks, in the hip; Henry P. Jackson, in the shoulder; 
and William Scott, in the head. None of the wounds would prove mortal, but 
Brooks convalesced for several months in the hospital. 

The regiment returned to South Carolina in mid-April. 

Operations in 1864 and Early 1865 

The 54th again took up positions around Charleston as the siege continued. 
For the next seven months the regiment was broken up in detachments of bat- 
talions or companies to serve as garrison troops or prison guards. Confederate 
prisoners were extremely distraught at having to be guarded by black troops. Seven 
companies made an unsuccessful advance on James Island on 2 July, but, after 
exposure to a persistent Confederate bombardment, were forced to fall back to 
their original lines. Charleston held on. In late November the 54th Regiment, 
except Companies B and F, left the Charleston region for operations south of 
the city. 

On November 30 the Union force advanced on Confederate earthworks 
situated on Honey Hill, South Carolina. The position was quite strong and defied 
several assaults. The 54th was again in place as the rear guard, but was ordered 
forward. Its advance, like the other regiments, was stymied. 

Though unsuccessful at Honey Hill, operations continued in the region be- 
tween Charleston and Savannah, Georgia. Sherman's advance was closing in on 
Savannah and the work of the Union force of which the 54th was a part disrupted 
troop and supplies heading to Savannah's relief. Sherman captured Savannah 
in late December and the 54th once again headed back to Charleston. 

Charleston's Fall 

The noose thrown around Charleston had finally tightened. Orders for its 
evacuation were issued and by 17 February the city was desolate; empty of 
defenders, most of its citizens, and supplies. Flames appeared as warehouses and 
bridges were destroyed. The first Union troops entered the city on the 17th and 
on the 18th the long detached Companies B and F of the 54th became the initial 
black troops to enter the city proper. The remainder of the 54th arrived in 
Charleston on 27 February and joined the two companies. Captain Luis Emilio 
of Company E wrote, "We could not be exultant, for by day and night, in sun- 
shine and storm, through close combat and far-reaching cannonade, the city and 
its defenses were the special objects of our endeavor for many months." 7 For the 
men of the 54th it was a long time coming since the night assault of 18 July 1863. 

Their time in Charleston was not long as the 54th embarked for Savannah 
on 8 March. Savannah was not as damaged as Charleston and the regiment spent 

23 



a pleasant three weeks of garrison duty before being ordered to Georgetown, 
South Carolina, for its final campaign. The war might have been drawing to a 
close, but was not yet over. 

What transpired on that final campaign is best described by Lt. Colonel Henry 
Hooper in his report to the Adjutant General of Massachusetts. 

April 27th 1865 

The army under the command of Brig. Genl. Potter left Georgetown on 
the 5th inst. and marched that day North Westerly, parallel with the Black River 
Eighteen miles. On the 6th marching in the same direction it made twenty miles. 
On the 7th two companies of the 54th under charge of Captain Tucker made 
a reconnaisance to Epps' Bridge on the Black River. Captain Tucker found the 
bridge destroyed — casualties 2d Lieut. Fred B. Rogers and two men wounded. 
We made nineteen miles on that day and Eighteen miles on the 8th. On the 
9th we marched twenty three miles fought the enemy at Dingle's Mill, the defen- 
sive point of Sumterville, capturing three pieces of artillery. The enemy's defeat 
resulted in the occupation of Sumterville by our forces. In this action the 54th 
formed a part of a flanking column, but did not get into action. The enemy's 
cavalry discovering the flank movement made good its escape. 

The army remained at Sumterville until the 1 1th when it marched westerly 
to Manchester Station on the Wilmington Rail Road twelve miles distant. The 
54th left the main column at this point and went down the rail road six miles 
to the Wateree Junction. Here the regiment charged across a trestle work bridge 
and seized three trains of cars. The steam was up in the locomotives but our 
movement was too sudden to allow the engineers to move off the trains. The 
men attached to the trains escaped by precipitating themselves from the em- 
bankment into the swamp. 

A party was sent in a westerly direction on the trestle work of the main 
rail road. After proceeding about three miles it succeeded in capturing three 
trains of cars with locomotives attached. By working the night throughout eight 
locomotives and forty-eight cars were destroyed, and on each of the three rail 
roads at the Junction trestle work was destroyed and bridges were burned. 
Casualties 2d Lieut. Stephen A. Swails wounded in the arm, and two men 
injured while coupling cars. The regiment then returned to the main column 
reaching it at 7:30 A.M. of the 12th. 

We remained at Singleton's Plantation about two miles north of Manchester 
Station, until the afternoon of the 15th when the column marched northerly 
towards Camden. During the afternoon skirmishers engaged the enemy in the 
front till nightfall, when suddenly leaving the direct road to Camden, we turned 
and marched in an easterly direction. Our march ended about 1 oClock A.M. 
on the 16th we having accomplished about fifteen miles. 

During the 16th the enemy was formed in our front but gave way rapidly 
before the skirmishers. We made about twenty miles this day. Casualties this 
day, one man killed and one wounded while foraging. On the 17th although 
the enemy endeavored to check our advance, we made sixteen miles and march- 
ing over the classic ground of Camden entered that town at nightfall. 

It was discovered at Camden the railroad trains had been sent down the 
Camden Rail Road during our advance from Singleton's. Early in the morning 
of the 18th we turned our force southward and marching upon the railroad 

24 



and upon the Statesburgh road which runs along the line of the railroad crossing 
it here and there began the final march for the rolling stock of the railroads 
of this section of the State. 

This day the enemy's efforts to check our advance were more determined 
than heretofore. The positions which he took up for defence were far better 
adapted to that purpose than was any he had before occupied during our march. 
About eight miles from Camden our advance was checked on the Statesburgh 
road at Swift's Creek. The 54th was ordered to cross this creek at some point 
to the right of the road in order to flank the enemy who were opposite the head 
of the column. 

We moved down the creek over ploughed fields that bordered the woods 
of the swamp. Contrabands stated that the swamp was impassable at any nearer 
point to the Statesburgh road than Boykins Mill which were two miles distant. 

As we approached the side of the mills the enemy's scouts were found, 
whom the skirmishers dispersed. Nothing definite could be learned of the cross- 
ing at the Mills, although we approached to the very bank of the stream, until 
a skirmish line was pushed through the dense undergrowth into the face of the 
enemy who lay concealed about sixty yards distant on the opposite bank of 
the creek. This primary movement resulted in one man killed and five wounded. 

It was discovered that the mills were upon two streams connected above 
by a dyke; one hundred and fifty yards below was a road running at right angle 
to the dyke, the stream making a sharp end between the dyke and road. This 
road crossed the two streams; the first by a bridge or rather by one stringer 
the boards having been removed, the second by a ford waist deep. About fifteen 
yards beyond the ford up a sharp ascent, was a breastwork of cotton bales. 
It was also ascertained that although the dyke and the road were one hundred 
and fifty yards apart on our side of the streams, they formed a junction on 
the enemy's bank of the creek. Finding the bridge on the road destroyed and 
knowing the dyke to be fully under the enemy's fire from breast works, I sent 
Major Pope with five companies to endeavor to effect a crossing a quarter of 
a mile below. Pending the result of the Major's movement, I kept up a strag- 
gling fire on the enemy's position and had the gates of the dam at the mill on 
the first stream stove in, in order that the water above might be lowered suffi- 
ciently to admit a crossing above the mill pond if we should not succeed at 
the mills or at the point below. Major Pope reported that he could not effect 
a passage of the creek, the enemy being in force at the crossing below. While 
reconnoitering the ford below, Lieut. Edw. L. Stevens was killed. I asked for 
a piece of artillery with which to drive the enemy from his work previous to 
charging across the swamp, on the dyke. The artillery was furnished and after 
a half dozen discharges of the gun, numbers of the enemy fled, and the five 
companies remaining with me charged, across the stream on the dyke in single 
file. The remaining enemy fled, we gained the higher bank and the fight at 
Boykins Mills was over. 

Casualties 1st Lieut Edward L. Stevens and one man killed, and thirteen 
men wounded one of whom has since died. 

We destroyed at this place fifty four bales of cotton, one saw and one grist 
mill. The army made but twelve [miles?] this day. 

Moving early on the 19th we encountered the enemy at Rafting Creek. The 
54th had charge of the rear this day. The enemy appeared in small numbers 

25 



in our rear, about forty or fifty men; they did not practically annoy us although 
they occasionally fired on the column. We made eighteen miles this day, reaching 
our old camp at Singleton's Plantation about 8 oClock P.M. The fighting was 
now over, the enemy could not withstand our advance, it could not pass the 
trestle work destroyed by the 54th on the 1 1th. The 20th was devoted to the 
destruction of the captured trains. The 54th destroyed fifteen locomotives, one 
passenger, two box and two platform cars loaded with military stores. 

Early on the 21st our forces left Singleton's Plantation and marching in 
a south-easterly direction made twenty miles. While at dinner news was brought 
to us by a flag of truce that an armistice was concluded by the opposing generals 
in this department. Knowing nothing but the bare fact of an armistice con- 
cluded, we felt that all was right and that peace was at hand. All our guns were 
discharged and cheers without number given for those who had sturdily stood 
by freedom in her hour of need. 

On the 22nd we made twenty three miles. On the 23d a cloud settled upon 
us; rumors reached us that our President had been foully murdered; we at first 
could not comprehend it, it was too overwhelming, too lamentable, too distress- 
ing. We said quietly, "Now there is no more peace, let us turn back, again load 
our muskets and if necessary, exterminate the race that can do such things. . ." 
Thus we all felt. The army made twenty seven miles this day. 

On the 24th without rations, we marched twenty three miles, and the night 
of the 25th found us once more in Georgetown after a march on this day of 
twenty two miles. 

The amount of property destroyed by the 54th is as follows, viz: Twenty 
six locomotives, seventy nine cars and their contents of stores, also trestle work 
bridges, tracks and rail road materials. One Machine shop valued at one million 
dollars ($1 ,000,000), one saw mill, one grist mill, and a large quantity of cotton. 
The regiment also turned into the Quarter Masters Department one hundred 
and sixty horses and mules, many carts, and carriages of every description 
besides a quantity of harness. 

The Army released and brought into Georgetown six thousand or more 
contrabands. 

H. Worthey Hooper 8 
The regiment left Georgetown and steamed for Charleston. 



Final Service 

Upon the regiment's return to Charleston, it began a quiet period of gar- 
rison duty in the city. Colonel Hallowell was in command of the city's defenses. 
Duty was varied; men served as train guards, sentries, or helped manage the in- 
flux of people returning to Charleston. The harbor was again open to shipping 
and the docks were a bustle of activity. Now the men were eagerly waiting for 
the opportunity to end their service and return home. 

On 20 August 1865 the moment arrived. At the camp at Mount Pleasant 
the men of the 54th were discharged from federal service. The 54th departed 
Charleston on board the steamers "C. F. Thomas" and "Ashland", arriving in 

26 



Boston Harbor on 28 August. The regiment landed in Boston on 2 September 
and began its final march. 

A local paper described the event: 

"The Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, the pioneer State colored regi- 
ment of this country, recruited at a time when great prejudices existed against 
enlisting any but socalled white men in the army, when a colored soldiery was 
considered in the light of an experiment almost certain to fail, this command — 
which now returns crowned with laurels, and after two hundred thousand their 
brethren, from one end of the traitorous South to the other, have fought themselves 
into public esteem — had such a reception to-day as befitted an organization the 
history of which is admitted to form so conspicuous a part of the annals of the 
country." 9 

The history of the 54th Massachusetts (Colored) Volunteers Regiment then 
drew to a close as the regiment disbanded and Rutland's contribution to the regi- 
ment came marching home. 

A Look at the Men Who Served from Rutland 

Twenty men who were either drafted or enlisted from Rutland served in the 
54th Massachusetts. Here are summations, drawn from pension records, vital 
records, and obituaries, of what these men did in the regiment and what they 
went through after their military service concluded. People may automatically 
think there is glory associated with warfare, but there is much greater pain and 
suffering. 

Anthony, Francis 

Enlisted at age 25, 19 December 1863. Assigned as a private to Company 
D. Mustered out with regiment on 20 August 1865. Height 5 '8". He returned 
after the war to live in Saratoga Springs, New York, and worked as a laborer. 
After some years he became afflicted with rheumatism in many joints which greatly 
affected his mobility and ability to work. His heart and eyesight were also fail- 
ing. The government granted him a disability pension. Anthony died in Saratoga 
Springs 14 March 1898 of natural causes. 

Briggs, Royal 

At age 18 enlisted 25 December 1863. Member of Company D as a private. 
Mustered out with rest of regiment on 20 August 1865. He became a barber and 
moved to Fair Haven. Died just short of his 34th birthday on 22 July 1879 from 
chronic alcoholism. His brother Chauncey of Castleton died in service with the 
regiment. 

Brooks, James J. 

Drafted at age 23 on 22 July 1 863 . Arrived at Morris Island on 29 November 
1863 from draft rendezvous and was assigned to Company H. Mustered out 20 

27 




Roberts Post §14 of the Vermont Department of the Grand Army of the Republic. 

Photographed on the steps of Memorial Hall on West Street. 

Circled faces are ex-members of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. 



28 



29 



August 1865. Height 5'11". He served actively with the regiment, but about the 
beginning of August 1865 he "contracted disease of the skin, manifested in an 
irruption on the arms, legs, and body." The skin disease prevented him from 
working full-time as a laborer and he applied for a pension. Brooks lived in Rutland 
for over ten years until moving to Westminster and Bellows Falls. He died in 
West Asbury Park, New Jersey, of heart failure on 8 April 1898 and was sur- 
vived by his second wife, Alice Smith Brooks. 

Brooks, William H. 

Drafted at age 28 on 5 August 1863. Was assigned to Company H upon arrival 
at Morris Island on 29 November 1863 from the draft rendezvous. Height 5'1 VA " . 

The following account describes the wound he received at Olustee and the 
care afterwards. 

At the battle of Olustee in the State of Florida, he received a gun shot 
wound in the hip. On Satureday the 20th day of February 1864, he retreated 
with others on the same day to Sanderson Station, when one of the 40th 
Massachusetts Regiment took him on his horse and carried him to Barber's Plan- 
tation, about 15 miles, he remained there part of the night, then went on a 
flat bottomed car drove by horses to Jacksonville, arrived there at 10 oclock 
after noon, it being Sunday, at that place Dr. Hawks, a surgeon and four others 
examined the wound and probed it, but did not find the ball, they applied ice 
water to the wound, he remained at Jacksonville until tuesday night, then went 
to Beaufort, South Carolina, in a Steam Boat, went into the Hospital at that 
place and remained there five weeks, the Surgeons examined the wound to find 
the ball while he was at Beaufort, but did not find it, a small piece of bone 
came out of the wound. 

Given a furlough home to recuperate, Brooks returned to Vermont where 
fourteen more pieces of bone worked themselves out of the wound. The bullet 
remained in his body, lodged near the spine. Returning to the regiment in the 
fall of 1864 the wound still was not healed and would not sufficiently heal until 
March 1865. Incapable of doing military duty and after going in and out of the 
hospital, Brooks was given a discharge for disability at Charleston on 16 June 1865. 

He was granted a pension for the disability and requested increases in his 
allotment for he could not do manual labor. In an affidavit, he described one 
effect of suffering. "I am troubled with sleeplessness and think that in each year 
I do not sleep more than three hours in each night, from night to night. Sometimes 
I have not been able to get any sleep for a week at a time." 

Brooks survived through this agonizing disability until 1 December 1904 when 
he died in New Haven, Connecticut. 

Freeman, John H. 

Enlisted on 16 December 1863, age 37. Assigned as a private to Company 
D. Died of pleuro pneumonia less than one month after arriving on the coast 
on 15 February 1864 at General Hospital No. 6, Beaufort, South Carolina. He 
was survived by his wife, Charity Freeman, who received a widow's pension. 

30 



Hart, George 

Enlisted at age 21 on 5 December 1863. Member of Company G. Mustered 
out 20 August 1865. Unlike the other Rutland enlistees, Hart was an ex-slave. 
He was born into slavery in Louisiana and came to Vermont with Captain Edmund 
A. Morse of the 7th Vermont Regiment. Morse was a resident of Rutland and 
had obtained leave down south after the battle at Baton Rouge in late 1862. 

On the march during the Florida expedition in 1864, Hart misjudged a leap 
across a ditch, fell backwards, and another soldier landed on his ankle. This injury 
confined him to the hospital for several weeks and after the war would partially 
lead to a disability pension. 

He married Mary Ann Wentworth in Rutland in 1866. She was the daughter 
of a 54th soldier from Woodstock and sister to two others. Later moving to 
Woodstock, he worked as both a mason and laborer. He was a member of the 
G.A.R. George C. Randall Post #82. Since Hart was uncertain of his birthdate, 
when he died of vascular heart disease on 26 February 1917, he was estimated 
to be between 75 and 80 years of age. 

Hayes, Nathan E. 

Enlisted at age 44 on 10 December 1863. Assigned to duty as a private in 
Company H. Discharged for disability at Charleston on 16 June 1865. Height- 
s' 9". He applied for a disability pension and his 1892 affidavit states his ailments 
clearly. "I contracted Chronic Diarrhea at Morris Island, S.C. in the year 1864: 
and I have suffered from the same more or less since that date to the present 
time; I also contracted rheumatism at Morris Island, S.C. by getting wet and 
laying on the ground and have never recovered from the same; but I have grown 
worse each year; I contracted scurvy in said service and I have suffered from sore 
legs ever since." 

The log incident was supported by another affidavit which stated, "The 
claimant was on a detail cutting wood for the Rail Road engines and while walk- 
ing on the logs, the bark slipped or turned under his feet, and he fell on a log 
hurting his back severely." Hayes received his pension from the government. 

Hayes lived all but the very last years of his life in Rutland working mainly 
as a teamster. He married Margaret Freeman. He was a member of the G.A.R. , 
Roberts Post #14 and later, George H. Ward Post #10. His youngest daughter, 
Harriet, married Sylvester Mero of Woodstock, another 54th veteran. Hayes died 
in his 91st year in Worcester, Massachusetts, on 10 April 1907 and was buried 
in Evergreen Cemetery. 

Jackson, Henry P. 

Enlisted at age 32 on 1 1 December 1863 and served as a private in Company 
G. Mustered out with regiment on 20 August 1865. Height— S'IVa" . Wounded 
in the shoulder at Olustee, 20 February 1864. After the war moved to Saratoga 
Springs, New York. Filed for disability pension for rheumatism contracted while 
in military service. A partial pension was granted as there was limited mobility 
in several joints. Jackson died in Saratoga Springs on 27 February 1901. 

31 




COURTESY, WOODSTOCK HISTORICAL SOCIETY 



George Hart in May 1908 
32 



Jackson, William 

Enlisted 19 December 1863 at age 32. Was a private in Company D. Mustered 
out with the regiment on 20 August 1865. Height — 5'6". Contracted severe 
rheumatism "from exposure to damp & chilly nights & sleeping on wet ground", 
which limited his work as a farm laborer and wood cutter. He was married to 
Harriet Hunter for seven years. Jackson died 2 May 1903 when he fell off a wagon 
loaded with lumber and was crushed by one of the wheels. 

Langley, John N. 

Drafted at age 25 on 22 July 1863. Arrived at Morris Island on 29 November 
1863 from the draft rendezvous and was assigned to Company D. Height — 5 '5". 
While in the service his wife Caroline Jackson Langley received $7.00 a month 
from Rutland to help support her in his absence. 

He was an unfortunate victim in an accident which caused him to receive 
a discharge for disability at Beaufort, South Carolina, on 20 June 1864. Due 
to a noxious sore on the right leg which inhibited marching, Langley was left 
behind at Hilton Head while the 54th proceeded to Florida in February 1864. 
This was the account of the incident. 

While at Hilton Head, on or about Feby 19/64. I had occasion to go to 
the sink and took my gun, using it in place of a cane to help me walk & that 
just before I reached the sink I halted to rest my leg which pained me badly, 
and thoughtlessly placed my foot upon the hammer guard of my gun to rest 
my leg, also resting my right arm on the muzzle of the gun, and while resting, 
my foot slipped and the next I knew I was upon my back, and in trying to get 
up I found my arm broken or shattered above the elbow, causing its amputa- 
tion at Hilton Head before I was carried to the Hospital at Beaufort. 

At the time of discharge Langley was granted a pension for his disability. 
He returned to Rutland, but retired from farming, buying a small house in 
Amherst, Massachusetts. Although capable of doing some manual labor, he was 
hindered by rheumatism and recurring dysentery. He died of Bright's Disease 
on 14 Feburary 1910 in South Kingston, Rhode Island. 

Langley, Louden S. 

Enlisted at age 24 on 7 December 1863. Private in Company B. Transferred 
to Company K, 33rd United States Colored Troops on 4 April 1864. In early 
July 1864 "his Co. passed over a deep narrow ditch by means of a plank walk 
in crossing which he fell off striking on the small of his back causing a perma- 
nent weakness of his back." Appointed Sergeant-Major on 1 November 1864. 
Mustered out with regiment on 1 January 1866. Died from the effects off his injury 
on 28 June 1881 in Beaufort, South Carolina, and was survived by wife Jane. 
Two brothers served in 54th; one, Lewis W. Langley, died of disease in service. 

Mero, Andrew H. 

Enlisted at age 27 on 9 December 1863. Private in Company B. Was absent 
sick in hospital when regiment was mustered out in August 1865. Upon release 

33 



from hospital was mustered out at Boston on 29 September 1865. Died at age 
34 in Woodstock on 26 June 1870 from consumption. 

Mero, Charles E. W. 

Enlisted 12 December 1863 at age 22. Member Company I as a private. 
Mustered out on 20 August 1865. Member of the G.A.R. , George H. Ward Post 
#10. Died from the effects of arteriosclerosis in Worcester, Massachusetts, on 
6 October 1908. 

Quow, James C. 

Enlisted 5 December 1863 at age 23. Private in Company K. Mustered out 
with the regiment on 20 August 1865. Married Harriet Storms of Middlebury in 
October 1863. Died in Worcester, Massachusetts, on 24 March 1895 of pneumonia. 

Scott, George H. 

At age 18 enlisted 1 1 December 1863. Private in Company B. Mustered out 
20 August 1865 with the regiment. Son of William Scott. Was 5 '5" in height. 
Married in 1866 Lory Storms, sister of George F. Storms. Suffered greatly from 
kidney disease which was contracted by the "drinking of impure water" at Jackson- 
ville, Florida, about 20 February 1864. Member of the G.A.R., George H. Ward 
Post #10. Died at age 54 from "malarial poisoning" in Worcester, Massachusetts, 
on 17 August 1898. 

Scott, William 

Enlisted at age 42 years of age on 12 December 1863. Private in Company 
I. Wounded in head at Olustee on 20 February 1864. Discharged for disability 
at St. Andrew's Parish, South Carolina, on 30 May 1865. Died 26 March 1873 
and was survived by his wife Harriet. One of his daughters married John C. Fuller, 
a former 54th member who had enlisted form Bridgewater. Scott is buried in 
West Street Cemetery with an epitaph which reads "I have fought my last battle, 
I have gone to rest." 

Storms, George F. 

Enlisted 16 December 1863, age 23. Private in Company G. Mustered out 
20 August 1865 with regiment. Height S'lVi" . During 1865 was treated at the 
U.S. Hospital in Beaufort, South Carolina, for asthma, penumonia, and dysentery; 
health problems partially disabling him for the remainder of his life and limited 
his line of work to that of coachman. Married first Julia Frye who died 1878, 
and then Jennie Cole. Member of the G.A.R. , George H. Ward Post #10. Died 
from a combination of asthma and heart failure in Worcester, Massachusetts, 
22 April 1906, age 63. 

Weeks, John 

Enlisted at age 36 on 19 December 1863. Was a private in Company I. 
Mustered out with the regiment on 20 August 1865. No further record exists. 

34 



Williams, Cyrus 

Age 18 at enlistment on 20 November 1863. Private in Company K. Mustered 
out with regiment on 20 August 1865. Height — 5 '6". In December 1863, several 
weeks after enlisting, contracted typhoid fever at Brattleboro. He was confined 
to the camp hospital. A severe cold accompanied the fever. After recuperating, 
he arrived at Morris Island to join the regiment. Once on duty he became afflicted 
with rheumatism and lung disease, linking them to the typhoid fever. These mal- 
adies prevented him from doing full duty and was often given light assignments. 
Williams did serve with the regiment until mustering out, but health problems 
continued to plague him after the war. He applied for a disability pension in 1885 
as he was no longer capable of serving as a laborer and was the janitor of Trinity 
Church. He married Emily Dolby of Middlebury in 1866. Williams was a member 
of the G.A.R., Roberts Post #14. He died at age 54 on 3 March 1896 of en- 
dopericarditis and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery. 

Williams, John W. 

Enlisted at age 24 on 15 December 1863. Private in Company C. Mustered 
out 20 August 1865 with the regiment. Had married Helen Mary Quow October 
1863, making him a brother-in-law to James Quow. Member of the G.A.R., 
Roberts Post #14. Died of pneumonia at age 57 on 2 April 1899 and was buried 
in Evergreen Cemetery. 



BACK NOTES 

'Fincher, Jack, "The hard fight was getting into the fight at all," Smithsonian, 21 (Oc- 
tober 1990), p. 48. 

2 United States War Department, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official 
Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series III, vol. 3 (Washington, DC: U.S. Govern- 
ment Printing Office, 1899), p. 110. 

3 RutIand Herald, November 24, 1863. 

4 Rutland Herald, December 14, 1863. 

5 Rutland Herald, December 28, 1863. 

6 Rutland Herald, March 2, 1864. 

7 Emilio, Luis, A Brave Black Regiment: History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of 
Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, (Boston: Boston Book Company, 1894; reprint 
ed., New York: Arno Press, 1969), p. 284. 

8 Letter from Lt. Colonel Henry W. Hooper to Brig. General William Schouler, April 27, 
1865. Massachusetts Department of Military Archives. 

9 Emilio, Brave Black Regiment, p. 321. 



35 



FOR FURTHER READING 

Burchard, Peter. One Gallant Rush. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1965. 
Cornish, Dudley Taylor. The Sable Arm. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas 

Press, 1987. 
Emilio, Luis, A Brave Black Regiment: History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment 

of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865. Boston: Boston Book 

Company, 1894; reprint ed., New York: Arno Press, 1969. 
Fincher, Jack. "The hard fight was getting into the fight at all." Smithsonian, 

21 (October, 1990), pp. 46-60. 
Glatthaar, Joseph T. Forged in Battle. New York: The Free Press, 1990. 
Heller, Charles E. "'Between Two Fires', The 54th Massachusetts." Civil War 

Times Illustrated, 11 (April, 1972), pp. 32-41. 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Don Wickman is a resident of Rutland and became interested in 
this topic upon the discovery of 54th Massachusetts soldier, John 
Williams' gravestone in Evergreen Cemetery. He is now pursuing 
graduate work in History at the University of Vermont. 



36 



(Our Army Correspondence.) 
From the 54th Mass. (Colored) Regt. 



54th Reg't Mass. Vols.s 
Jacksonville, Fla, March 9th, 1864 



Editors of the Free Press: 



You are aware that we (the Vermont men in this regiment) left Brattleboro 
Jan 23d, for I saw it stated in the Sentinel that "almost a mutiny occurred among 
the colored soldiers •••••••• regiment" because while the white soldiers 
received $75, the black soldiers received nothing! This, although coming from 
the Sentinel, is nevertheless true. It is also true that "they" (the colored soldiers) 
"had expected to be treated in this respect the same as white soldiers, especially 
as they counted on the quota of the state." 

The boys (52 in number) at the time of their enlistment had been promised 
$18 per month $302 bounty and premium, and the same allowance for clothing 
as white soldiers. This would have entitled each man of us to the payment of 
$75 before we left Brattleboro. We would have been super-human had we sus- 
tained all of the disappointment that the truth conveyed without being greatly 
chagrined and disposed to "mutiny." Indeed, I think I may say that, if the boys 
had had their arms, that every man of them would have died on the spot before 
leaving camp without the payment of their just due. As it was they showed un- 
mistakable signs that they had pluck, so much that it was feared by the officers 
that they would have trouble with us, and so recourse had to be falsehood. We 
were told that, owing to our going into a regiment from another State, our $75 
had been sent to the headquarters of our regiment, where we would be paid off 

as soon as we arrived there! a falsehood that even Satan himself would blush 

to promulgate; but the boys, willing to believe what should be true, believed all 
would be right, and so the difficulty ended. Suffice it to say that we have sent 
a letter to our excellent Governor, J. Gregory Smith, complaining of our 
grievances, and asking for the interposition of his executive authority in our behalf. 

We now number 44 effective men. We have six on the sick list at the different 

hospitals, both here and at the Head, and have lost one by death private John 

H. Freeman, whose family reside in your village, and one has been missing since 

the battle of Olustee (Saturday 20th ult.) Private Charles E. Nelson of Bristol 

and is supposed to have been captured by the enemy. 

It is now over a month since we came on this expedition, and we have seen 
one battle and one defeat. From the time we landed in this city, until the day 
of the battle aforesaid, the rebels under Gen. Finnegan had not ceased to run; 
but the truth of the proverb that "it is a long road that never turns" was soon 
to be verified. On Wednesday the 16th ult. we left our camp, with a sufficient 
force, as was supposed, to crush all opposition, but the rebels having been largely 
reinforced from Georgia, were ready to give us a warm reception. On Saturday 
the 20th ult., we came up to the extreme front. It was about three P.M. when 

37 



our regiment with a hearty cheer went into the fight. The enemy were strongly 
entrenched behind a breastwork of earth, which greatly protected them from the 
effect of our fire. Before we came up the rebs succeeded in capturing one of our 
batteries of six guns, and soon after we went into the fight they had endeavored 
to flank us by a regiment of rebel cavalry. We wheeled and paid our respects 
to them, which soon set them to a "right about face." We fought bravely (i.e. 
the regiment— I was not in the fight, having been ordered to the rear by the Colonel, 
to guard the knapsacks of our men) until we were ordered to retreat. But the 
men had no idea of obeying the firm order, and it was repeated by Col. Hallowell 
three times before the order was obeyed. The 54th was the last regiment that left 
the field, and they retreated in good order, as did the other regiments that par- 
ticipated in the fight. The loss of our regiment in killed, wounded, and missing, 
was 97 men. Among the wounded was Private Emery Anderson of Hinesburgh, 
who received a ball through his leg just above the ankle joint. Many of our 
wounded were left on the field, from which place they crawled along into the 
thick bushes to conceal themselves, and afterwards were discovered and captured 
by the enemy. However, quite a number were brought off, and those whose wounds 
were in the flesh only or about the head and arms, retreated with the rest of our 
army. Many of the wounded collected at a small house about three miles from 
the battle field, where many of them were taken in by the ambulances and wagons 
that came along, and that were sent back (the number was very few) after them. 
The latter threw out every thing almost, that they might accommodate the 
wounded, to keep them from being captured by the enemy, whom it was 
understood were pursuing us. As our men left the field, the rebs rent the air with 
cheer upon cheer. It was after 8 P.M. when we left the vicinity of the battle, 
and before we could rest, we must march back to the place we had encamped 
the night before, which was a distance of 15 miles. All along the road were men 
who had, in the hurry and confusion, lost their regiments: some helping along 
the wounded, whiles not a few of the latter were helping along themselves, and 
marched the entire 15 miles without any assistance. Hard tack or army bread, 
was very plentifully strewn along the road for the double purpose of unburden- 
ing the teams or taking in the wounded, and of feeding the numerous stragglers 
that lined the road, from the rear guard (the 55th Mass. colored) to the van of 
the army. It was about 5 A.M. before the stragglers all came in, or when the 
rear guard of the army came up. The men were tired and foot-sore, having marched 
that day 32 miles, and had fought one battle and sustained a defeat. 

At six the next morning we were on our road for the station (Baldwin), 
where we arrived about 12 M., from which place we pushed on (for a short 
distance at double-quick) until we arrived at Camp Finnegan, which is only seven 
miles from this city. We arrived at this city on Monday evening, 22d ult. where 
we have been ever since, laboriously engaged in fortifying. The rebels have been 
as near to us as Camp Finnegan, and have once drove in our pickets, when we 
were immediately ordered to the entrenchments ready for a brush. But the rebs 
have thus far shown more wisdom than valor in threatening Jacksonville, and 
it is now very generally believed that if we see them we will have to go where 
they are. 

38 




Operations of the 54th Regiment, 1863-1865 



TAKEN FROM BRAVE BLACK REGIMENT 



The weather here for the past few days has been very cool, but to-day it 
is very warm, and owing to the sudden change the heat is somewhat oppressive. 
The pretty and odoriferous flowers that almost everywhere greet the eyes, remind 
one of June tathei in Vermont. The country around this city has been stripped, 
and both man and beast the swine in particular bear evidence of great scarcity 
and want, and all presents a striking contrast to the thrift and abundance that 
everywhere greet one in Vermont. 

The boys are all pleased with the draft, because they think it more than fair 
for all to share in the perils of the fight, as well as in the blessings of the perfect 
and peaceful liberty that is sure to follow. 

Louden S. Langley 

Co., B. 54th Mass. Vols. 

Burlington Free Press, 22 March 1864 



39 



The weather here for the past few days has been very cool, but to-day it 
is very warm, and owing to the sudden change the heat is somewhat oppressive. 
The pretty and odoriferous flowers that almost everywhere greet the eyes, remind 
one of June weather in Vermont. The country around this city has been stripped, 
and both man and beast the swine in particular bear evidence of great scarcity 
and want, and all presents a striking contrast to the thrift and abundance that 
everywhere greet one in Vermont. 

The boys are all pleased with the draft, because they think it more than fair 
for all to share in the perils of the fight, as well as in the blessings of the perfect 
and peaceful liberty that is sure to follow. 

Louden S. Langley 

Co., B. 54th Mass. Vols. 

Burlington Free Press, 22 March 1864 



39 



RUTLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY 

P.O. BOX 6473, RUTLAND, VERMONT 05702 

(802) 773-3417 

Membership in the Society is open to all upon payment of appropriate dues. (See 
dues schedule below.) With membership, for its period, goes a subscription to the 
Quarterly, any newsletters, a copy of the Annual Report, entitlement to vote at 
business meetings, and benefits accruing from support of the Society's Museum, 
exhibits, programs, collections and library. The year through which membership is 
paid and the category are noted on all address labels. 

Please send any address change on Postal Service Form 3576 (a postcard freely 
available at your local post office). 

Annual Meeting is held at 7:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of October. 



Annual dues categories are: Sustaining — $125.00 

Sponsoring -$50.00 
Business -$125.00 
Students 
(18 & under)- $8.00 



Contributing -$20.00 
Regular -$10.00 
Senior Citizens 
(62 & up) -$8.00 



Special one-payment categories are: Lifetime— $200.00 Memorial Gift— $200.00 
Advance payment for 2 or 3 years is welcome, helping to reduce costs. 
Please make checks payable to: Rutland Historical Society 
And send to: Box 6473 

Rutland, VT 05702 

Manuscripts are invited: address correspondence to the Managing Editor. 

Editor: Michael L. Austin Managing Editor: Jean C. Ross 

Copyright © 1992 The Rutland Historical Society, Inc. 
ISSN 0748-2493 



RUTLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY 

PO Box 6473 

Rutland, Vermont 05702 

ADDRESS CORRECTION 
REQUESTED 



NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION 

U.S. POSTAGE 

PAID 

Rutland, Vermont 
Permit No. 12 




The number or letter on the address label indicates your dues status: 
92 current Life membership